Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Editorials

July 26, 2012

Repeat offenders

Virginia targets drug dealers

— — Legislation signed into law this week by Gov. Bob McDonnell wisely strengthens penalties for repeat drug dealers while also criminalizing the illegal distribution of new synthetic cannabinoids and hallucinogenic bath salts.

The tough new laws passed by the General Assembly, and signed into law by McDonnell, are welcomed. The new rules provide law enforcement officials, and prosecutors, additional tools to combat the state’s rampant prescription drug abuse problem.

McDonnell signed nine bills into law Monday, including a bill that adds a mandatory minimum term of confinement of three years for a second or subsequent conviction of manufacturing, selling, giving, distributing, or possessing with intent to distribute a schedule I or II drug and increases the mandatory minimum term for a third or subsequent conviction from five years to 10 years.

“Often times these are people who are in it for a profit, and those are the ones we really want to concentrate on,” Tazewell County Commonwealth Attorney Dennis Lee said Tuesday in response to the new laws. “The addicts who are selling a pill or a few pills to keep their addiction going are obviously doing tremendous damage to the community in spreading the drugs and their addiction. But business people, or individuals who are simply putting money into their pockets and don’t have an addiction, they are the ones doing the most harm and causing more drugs to be on the streets — the professional dealers. I think anything we can do to take them off the street for a significant period of time will only help the community.”

A second bill signed by McDonnell addresses an emerging drug threat in the region by criminalizing the possession and distribution of synthetic cannabinoids. The new law amends provisions added to the code last year regarding the criminalization of synthetic cannabinoids and chemicals known as “bath salts” to add newly identified chemical combinations. The law adds a more generic chemical description of synthetic cannabinoids so that new chemical compounds can in return be considered synthetic cannabinoids without the precise chemical compound having to be added to the code, according to the governor’s office.

Another bill signed by McDonnell gives the Commonwealth the discretion to have juveniles charged with repeat violations of certain drug offenses to be transferred to adult status for trial. Two additional bills signed by the governor help to strengthen law enforcement in tracking the sale methamphetamine while also requiring those convicted of manufacturing methamphetamine to pay the reasonable costs associated with clean-up, removal and repair of affected properties.

The General Assembly, and McDonnell, are to be applauded for their efforts to increase penalties for repeat drug offenders and dealers. It will take tougher penalties for the Commonwealth to combat the rampant spread of illegal drugs in Virginia while also preserving the safety of our schools, neighborhoods and communities.

Prosecutors in Southwest Virginia, who have been on the front line of the region’s drug war for more than a decade, will benefit from the tougher laws.

The West Virginia Legislature would be wise to follow in the footsteps of the neighboring Commonwealth of Virginia.

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